January 9, 2009
My dad had a lot of little sayings. One of them was this: "With true friends, you can lay your billfold and your wife down side by side and a good friend won’t touch either one of them." It always got a big laugh when he said it, but he was also dead serious.
My dad had the same best friend for over seventy years. Growing up, our families spent a lot of time together, and in their retirement years Dad and Harold went out for breakfast together almost every day. In terms of their characters, their temperaments and values, they were as different as day and night. Harold was lazy, his house was falling apart around him, and his favorite actives all involved having a beer in his hand. My dad didn’t drink often and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t build or fix. Dad was always busy and often he had a gaggle of little kids following him around. Harold treated his wife like a slave and wasn’t much of a father. My dad was a warm and affectionate father and husband who was always my best cheerleader. Harold was not the kind of person I would have wanted for a father or husband, but he sure did add a lot of laughter in our lives. He was a colorful character, unique in every way…and my dad loved that guy through out most of his life.
One time I interviewed my dad for a family history book I was writing and I asked him how he was able to maintain so many warm friendships for so many years. His answer went something like this: “If you want perfect friends, you’re never going to have any friends. If you are always trying to change your friend’s way of thinking or acting, you aren’t going to have any friends. If you want your friends to all be just like you, you aren’t going to have any friends. Friendships are about respect for each other’s uniqueness. Friendships are about sharing good times.”
My best friend from kindergarten thought my second year of college is still in my life. We live far apart now so we only get to see each other often. We were like two peas in a pod for seventeen years, and then our lives took different directions. She’s a typical Washington D.C. wife; if you’ve ever seen the movie Birdcage, my girlfriend has a lot in common with the senator’s wife. Me? Let’s just say that ‘prime and proper’ and throwing lots of dinner parties is not my style. She’s got five complete sets of good china. I’m using 1930s Buffalo diner ware that I picked up one piece at a time at flea markets. But we still maintain our friendship because we do respect each other’s path to happiness and we can still make each laugh after all these years.
Tonight we went out for dinner with four friends who’ve been in Don’s life since their teenage years and in mine for the past 35 years. One couple lives out of state now, but whenever we’re able to get together, we can all pick up right where we left off. Tonight was one of those rare times filled with warmth and laughter. The kind of night you wish didn’t have to come to an end. None of us are alike in personalities. Our politics and life styles are all different, but as I sat there I realized that one of the reasons why we all get along so well is because we all have respect for each other’s uniqueness. And as far as billfolds and mates go, any one of us could lay ours down on a bed and the others wouldn’t touch them.
Dad, wherever you are...you can still make me smile.
painting by Adriaen Brouwer